Bad News From GM? I Think Not

18 May

This post also ran on Cookerly PR’s blog and has contributions by Candace McCaffery.

In the race to Facebook’s IPO, all the news seemed focused on guessing just how high the valuation would be as well as the litany of reasons that it would achieve dizzying success. And then General Motors dropped what seemed like a bombshell: it would no longer advertise on Facebook.

Seldom has a shift of only $10 million in ad budgets (less than half a percent of GM’s $1.8 billion total ad budget) brought such attention. Nonetheless, naysayers were off to the races, saying that the auto giant’s move was proof that Facebook doesn’t work; that without advertising support the social network was doomed.

Sadly, the over-heated IPO story meant that too many people missed the really important point of the news: content trumps advertising on social media.

While GM spent $10 million in ads on Facebook, it spends three times that on content creation and community management, which apparently works quite well, a point the Wall Street Journal didn’t make until a third of the way into its story on the GM advertising pull.

So 75 percent of GM’s budget for Facebook is working very well. “Content is effective and important,” GM’s CMO Joe Ewanick told the newspaper. But it’s the 25 percent that supposedly wasn’t working which everyone wants to discuss.

Sure, it’s a problem for Facebook to determine how to get its share of the money companies will spend using the service. And it’s a problem for media companies whose revenue depends on buying millions of eyeballs for their clients. It’s certainly a problem for any agency that still wants to apply old-school media practices to social media.

But it isn’t your problem.

Underlying Facebook’s success is the basic formula of empowering the connections between people, even when those people are speaking on behalf of a brand. This is a world where you earn people’s attention, and you continue to earn it every day to forge longer and deeper relationships. Its primary role is not to buy access to their eyes.

That is not to say that advertising on Facebook is always a bad idea and doesn’t have a place in your marketing mix. It may. There are many examples of successful paid ad campaigns on the social network, and it shouldn’t be completely written off because of this high-profile event.

Buddy Media’s Michael Lazerow recently wrote a great piece in Fast Company that highlights some of the positive data, including the fact thaton average, Facebook’s social ads had 55% higher recall than non-social ads.” I would bet that those advertisers – like GM – put a significantly higher focus on content, though, and it was the integration of the campaign that helped to drive those high recall numbers.

So in the coming months, Facebook’s team will no doubt be working overtime figuring out how to get more of GM’s ad budget. For the rest of the world, however, the message here is simple: create content, create a dialogue with your audience and enjoy success. Just as it always was.